127 Hours

29 Aug

Director: Danny Boyle (2010)

Contrary to what you might believe should you ever lay your eyes on me, I have been brought up on a diet of mountains, hiking and nature adventures – certainly something I have had to put on hold while living in London but nonetheless something that still gets my nostalgic heart racing. This passion for nature was undoubtedly drilled into me by my father whose insistence to drag me into mountains as soon as I could walk, trained me up for the various treks and mountain climbs I have undertaken around the world over the years. This shared love of the outdoors in addition to (hopefully) staving off premature heart disease, also meant there was a veritable cavern of mountain guides/maps/books I could now purchase for my father for birthdays/Christmas/bribes. One of these aforementioned mountain books was Between a Rock and A Hard Place by Aron Ralston, the heart wrenchingly inspiring true story of a climber who became trapped at the bottom of the Blue John Canyon in Utah after slipping and finding his arm crushed between a loose boulder and the rock.

When I first heard that they were making a film of Ralson’s ordeal I was dubious, but on hearing that it was to be directed by Danny Boyle – and would star James Franco – 127 Hours became a worthy testament to this truly inspiring story that otherwise would have remained in the Mountaineering sections of high street book shops.

It is an interesting concept to make what is essentially an action film of a story which in its very essence is about inaction, about someone who is physically unable to move. But it is here that we get to not only see Boyle’s incredible directorial talents but also Franco shine as an actor as he is pushed into becoming a soliloquist on the screen, earning his Best Actor nomination at the Oscars.  Without characters to interact with, Boyle is forced to have his leading man interact with the landscape and nature itself – Ralston’s only companions aside from himself.

Chipping away at the boulder with his multi-tool, all I could do was think ‘STOP! You’re only making the damn thing blunter…’ Anyone who has heard even a breath of the crux of the story will know that when faced with the seemingly inescapable, Ralston bravely faces the unthinkable to save himself, cutting – nay hacking – off his arm with a blunt multi-tool to free himself from his rocky prison. But, understandably, self amputation is always going to be the last resort and so before we arrive at this pivotal release, we follow Ralston’s internal struggle and journey to reach his ultimate realisation of what he must do in order to survive.

Ralston is sensible – sort of – or at least thankfully prepared; as an experienced mountaineer, he has all the equipment and provisions one would need for canyoning but of course, one is never expecting to become trapped for 5 days. Water runs low, food stocks diminish, as does Ralston’s sanity – resorting to video diaries to document his final moments, and offer heart breaking goodbyes to his family and friends. What makes these video segments all the more poignant is that Ralston actually did make these – and Boyle and Franco are some of the few people who have actually seen them, moments captured by a man who literally thought he was staring death in the face. Providing the audience with an escape from the canyon, Ralston’s deterioration is charted by hallucinations and hazy dreams in the shape of flashbacks of past adventures, parties and lovers allowing us to learn more about the Ralston before. But ultimately he is always brought back to reality – that he is stuck and at the mercy of nature. For me, one of the simple, but beautiful motifs throughout 127 Hours  were the persistent ants which crawl over Ralston’s face throughout the film, highlighting the helplessness of his situation in the face of nature but also his abject resilience, batting them away.

Of course this resilience is only viewed in hindsight. As Ralston says goodbye on video, then carves his name and date of birth in the rock, we see glimpses of a man ready to give in to his imminent demise. That is until he sees his unborn son in another delirium – and promptly breaks his own arm. In a scene which had audience members fainting in the aisles during early screenings, Boyle refuses to cut away as we watch the climax of Ralston’s existential dilemmas in a one take, immovable shot as Ralston gets to work in regaining his freedom from the boulder. Orchestrated with a spine tingling soundtrack as the blade hits bone and tendon, it really is as gripping as you’ve heard. In these brutal moments, Ralston transforms from the energetic, flirtatious man we saw earlier to a man whose determination to succeed and survive courses through his veins – the veins which now lay exposed. Almost feral, Franco’s determination as he hacks at his arm with the blunted tool, makes it impossible to look away – and you shouldn’t.

127 Hours honours a truly remarkable story, and the fact that it earned the approval of Ralston himself, who features briefly in the end credits, only adds to the pride Boyle should feel at so perfectly encapsulating these life changing hours of a man’s life into a mere 94 minutes. Harrowing it may be for us to watch, 127 Hours transcends being a story of survival to become an ode to the determination and resilience of man that could – and should – inspire us all to never give up when we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place.

…Hence the name of the book.

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One Response to “127 Hours”

  1. CMrok93 September 5, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    How Danny Boyle managed to make this story of a boy and his rock one of the most exciting movies of the year is just further testament to how hard Danny Boyle rocks. So does James Franco. Nice Stuff! Check out my site when you can!

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